The Contributor, Nashville’s street newspaper, sued the city of Brentwood Wednesday to stop police from giving tickets to homeless people for selling the paper in public places.
The ACLU, which is representing The Contributor in the federal civil rights lawsuit, said Brentwood was violating the newspaper’s free speech and free press rights.
The Contributor, which sells for $1, is printed by a nonprofit organization to educate the public about homelessness and to help the homeless financially. Nearly 400 homeless and formerly homeless people sold 117,000 copies in the last month. Selling it has helped some earn enough money to find homes.
“This newspaper is all about the entrepreneurial spirit that makes this country great,” said Calvin Hart, one of the newspaper’s vendors who was ticketed in Brentwood and joined the lawsuit as one plaintiff. “The selling of this newspaper is important because it allows the people in the community to directly help the less fortunate. It’s a win-win situation.”
Brentwood city attorney Roger Horner did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. The city says The Contributor is violating an ordinance that bans the sale of merchandise on “any portion of the public street, alley, sidewalk or right of way …”
The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare the Brentwood ordinance unconstitutional. A Brentwood judge upheld the ordinance in March, forcing The Contributor to pay a fine of $200.
“Our mission at The Contributor is to highlight issues faced by those in the homeless and poverty populations. The city of Brentwood is not only limiting our message but also our efforts to create a sense of community between our vendors and our customers,” said Tasha French, executive director of The Contributor.
The City of Brentwood issued a statement Wednesday evening saying its primary concern is public safety, and that its ordinance is applied equally.
"Walking into a public street to sell newspapers or anything else creates a safety risk," the statement said. "It is not the city's intention to prohibit the sale of newspapers, nor does the city wish to discriminate against anyone, including persons who happen to be homeless."